Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the March 3, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror, page A6.

The ratio of tolerance of our bishops towards the excesses of the Arroyo regime is directly proportional to their intolerance for condoms and contraceptives.” – Philip Gilmore

Health secretary Esperanza Cabral decided to distribute free condoms “to those who cannot afford it” because HIV/AIDS cases are spreading at an alarming rate. That earned her the ire of the Catholic Church.

One bishop denounced her timely intervention as immoral and warned her that, “she already has one foot in hell and many more might suffer the same fate” if she did not stop what she was doing.

“It’s very immoral for someone in a government position to support the distribution of condoms which we know, do not really reduce or stop the spread of HIV-AIDS. It’s scary because it’s the morality of our society, especially of our youth, that is at stake. We only wish that Cabral would change because she already has one foot in hell. People might suffer the same fate,” the bishop said.

Another bishop refused to accept the fact that Cabral’s primary duty as the secretary of health is to safeguard the public’s physical wellbeing, not their spiritual health and salvation. He wanted her fired for reasons that would make sense only if the Philippines were a theocratic state like Iran or an Afghanistan under the Taliban.

“Secretary Cabral should not continue serving until June because the culture and morality of society will be endangered under her. First, she does not respect the big number of Catholics in the country who oppose the distribution of condoms. Second, is she Catholic? I doubt that she is. Because if you are a Catholic and in the government, you should be living the teachings of the Church. But she is doing the opposite.”

Cabral wants to prevent life from becoming a living hell for a lot of people and she gets hell for it. So I’m glad someone, deputy Palace spokesman Gary Olivar, reminded the bishops of the different standards that apply to the secular and religious worlds.

“We should remember that public officials should be judged by standards of public policy interest as set forth in our laws and legal precedents and not the morality of this or that institution,” he said.

Unfortunately Olivar’s colleague, returning deputy spokesman Ricardo Saludo, proved to be a big disappointment. Well, actually he’s not, not to a bishop spinning yarns.

“Long before AIDS spread in the Philippines, it reached alarming levels in countries that strongly promote condoms. Also, condoms may encourage risky sex by making people think that such behavior is made safe by condoms,” Saludo said.

Never mind that the spread of HIV/AIDS is more likely caused by the shortcomings of safe-sex education programs than malfunctioning condoms and never mind that the teachings of self-appointed guardians of morality went unheeded? Or maybe it’s because feigned ignorance from someone who ought to know better helps promote a lie.

Esperanza Cabral is doing the right thing. Gloria Arroyo is doing the right thing. The bishops are barking up the wrong tree. If they are really honest about it, they will admit to their fault and not lay the blame on Cabral and, by implication, Arroyo, whom they will never attack frontally. We know why they give her a free pass on corruption and human rights abuses but that’s another matter for another day. For now, let’s just remind the bishops to do a little self-examination, to find out why they can’t get their parishioners to heed their teachings about morality and sex, and to stay the hell out of the way of a public servant who is doing her job.